MOBILE, Ala. – As Scott Campbell paced the sidelines of Ladd-Peebles Stadium for Senior Bowl practices last week, it seemed as though for him, nothing had changed.
And, in a way, nothing has. Campbell, who has traveled to the annual college football all-star game for the better part of the last three decades, did so again with the same title and the same responsibilities the Washington Redskins have provided him since 2008. As the team’s director of player personnel, he’s the lead collegiate scout, even as Jay Gruden has become the Redskins’ coach.
“Our order is still to evaluate the players and rank them how we see as football players,” Campbell said Thursday night in the lobby of the Battle House Renaissance Hotel, where Senior Bowl organizers had all front-office personnel stay in the week leading up to Saturday’s game. “We’re curious now with Jay and his staff, he’s going to have his own imprint and what he wants at each position and who he wants character-wise and everything else. We’ll learn that through the process and meetings. But right now, my job, and the scouts’ job, is to provide them with a list of how we see it.”
When the Redskins fired coach Mike Shanahan on Dec. 30 and replaced him with Gruden on Jan. 9, general manager Bruce Allen insisted that little would change with regards to personnel decisions. Campbell would still be responsible for scouting the colleges. His top assistant, director of pro personnel Morocco Brown, would oversee the acquisition of free agents.
Both would report to Allen, who would rely on each individual’s assessments, as well as Gruden’s, to make decisions for the team. It’s a different course after four years with Shanahan, who was technically granted final say in all personnel decisions.
“I have talked to [Gruden],” said Campbell, who recently completed his 27th season working in some capacity in the NFL. “You learn more going through the meetings with the coaches than anything else. You’ll find out who they like, who they don’t like. They might say they’re looking for something, but if you listen to them, ‘OK, this is what they want.’ You’ll figure that out.”
Campbell was joined all week by the team’s six area scouts, as well as general manager Bruce Allen, senior executive A.J. Smith, and three coaches – defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, defensive line coach Jacob Burney and offensive line coach Chris Foerster.
Of the approximately 110 players invited to participate in the Senior Bowl, the team wanted to meet, in some capacity, with those they believe could be taken in the fifth round or higher. That’s roughly 80 players, including some of the highly regarded prospects – Baylor strong safety Ahmad Dixon, for one – and some of the more unknown prospects, such as Pierre Desir, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound cornerback from Lindenwood, a Division II college in Missouri.
The team will start with roughly 1,000 players on its always-fluctuating draft board and refines that list as the pre-draft process continues. BeginningMonday morning, the Redskins’ scouting staff will spend the next 10 days going position-by-position through the players they’ve seen at the collegiate all-star games, then will expand upon those evaluations beginning at the NFL combine in late February and through each college’s “pro days” in March.
Like last year, the workload is slightly different. Because the Redskins aren’t scheduled to select their first player until the second pick of the second round, they can safely eliminate a number of players from their scouting. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, for example, is projected to be taken in the top five picks, and knowing there’s no chance he would fall to the Redskins in the second round, their report on Clowney is less thorough.
“But we’ve done our work and we’ve got our reports, and what happens is he will be a free agent one day, and we will have the file and the book on him started,” Campbell said.
Campbell’s work never truly ends, but he’s most active when the college football season begins. He’ll sometimes spend upwards of three weeks on the road at a time, hitting as many colleges as he can to scout players in-person, often 50 by the time the season is over. He may take in one practice on aWednesday, drive to another college on Thursday, drive to a third on Friday and then attend a game on Saturday.
Though he plans out a schedule well in advance, he tries to avoid the biggest games, because the circus-like atmosphere often makes doing an adequate job difficult. Two years ago, he was scheduled to watch Alabama’s game against LSU and was relieved when, despite becoming a meeting of the nation’s two top-ranked teams, the coaches didn’t close down practice to professional scouts.
Bowl season also offers a prolonged chance to scout players. When the Redskins were looking to draft a quarterback after the 2011 season, Campbell watched Kirk Cousins and Michigan State in the Outback Bowl and then headed to San Antonio to watch Robert Griffin III and Baylor face Washington in the Alamo Bowl three days later.
This year, he was in attendance as Georgia, his alma mater, hosted Missouri on Oct. 12, and he took in UCLA’s game against Washington on Nov. 15. He remembered watching a game at Texas, but couldn’t recall the opponent; after a while, they all blend together.
So, too, do his many years at the Senior Bowl, but occasionally, something stands out. When Shanahan and the Redskins coached the South Team in the game two years ago, they were assigned a mid-week injury replacement – a little-known fullback from Florida Atlantic named Alfred Morris.
That interaction was a large part in why the Redskins drafted Morris three months later, taking him in the sixth round. After two seasons, only one player – Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson – has gained more than the 2,888 yards Morris has.
“At that time, you don’t know you’re going to end up drafting him,” Campbell said. “You just try to get exposed to as many good players as you can.”
• Zac Boyer can be reached at email@example.com.
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